Study Background

The primary goal of the study was to provide further insight into whether and how the criminal justice system intervenes in parental abduction cases by collecting data on the following:

  • National estimates of parental abduction reports to law enforcement authorities and resulting arrests.

  • National estimates of parental abduction cases which were opened by prosecutors and in which criminal charges were filed.

  • Law enforcement authorities' use of management information systems (MISs) and written policies and procedures in responding to parental abduction reports.

  • Staffing characteristics and administrative resources.

  • Staff participation in formal training or special programs addressing parental abduction.

  • Parental abduction case flow through the criminal justice system.

  • Characteristics of cases in which law enforcement intervened by investigating and/or filing criminal complaints.

  • Model approaches to the handling of parental abduction cases.

The study consisted of three phases:

  • Phase 1: A nationally representative survey of law enforcement agencies and prosecutors' offices.

  • Phase 2: Site visits to six counties where a larger than average number of parental abduction cases were prosecuted.

  • Phase 3: A review of individual parental abduction case files in the law enforcement agencies and prosecutors' offices of three of the six jurisdictions visited.

The study examined all facets of the criminal justice system's response, including the reporting of the incident, investigation of the case, location and recovery of the child, and criminal prosecution of the abductor(s). The site visits provided insight into various aspects of unique programs, and the national survey and case file reviews attempted to identify those characteristics that resulted in an enhanced system response. Based on these findings, the researchers developed recommendations for statutory, policy, and programmatic change. The study described in this Bulletin concluded in 1996 and is based on parental abduction data from 1992 to 1996. Nevertheless, the study findings and recommendations continue to be relevant to current incidents of parental abduction. OJJDP has chosen to highlight the findings of this study because, to date, this is one of the most comprehensive studies of the Nation's criminal justice system's response to the crime of parental abduction.

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The Criminal Justice System's Response to Parental Abduction Juvenile Justice Bulletin December 2001